Five area teams get a chance to showcase their abilities in quarterfinal games in state playoff action tonight.
Lely coach Stacey Stewart and Marco Island Academy coach Andy Delgado like the chances of the teams advancing.
With all games at 7:30 p.m., in Class 2A, First Baptist Academy of Naples hosts Largo Indian Rocks; 5A, Estero is at Immokalee and Golden Gate is at East Lee County; 6A, Naples hosts Island County and Barron Collier travels to South Fort Myers.
Stewart's Trojans played, and lost to Naples, Barron Collier, Immokalee and Golden Gate. A very tough group for Lely who had its best season in four years when it won 3 of 10 games.
"The toughest battle might be Barron Collier at South Fort Myers," Stewart said.
Barron Collier was runner up to Naples in 6A-12, while South Fort Myers won its 6A-11 championship.
"Dan Pallante (Barron coach) has done a good job in his first season and they have a strong defensive team. (However,) South Fort Myers knows what it takes in the playoffs. If Barron can play well on defense it will be a close game."
Stewart thinks Naples will have no problems in dismissing Island Coast. Naples won 6A-12, while Island Coast was runner up in 6A-11.
He also thinks First Baptist, in the playoffs for the first time, will down Largo-Indian Rocks, Class 2A-11 runner-up.
"I've seen First Baptist play and they are a very good team," he said. "It is their first time, but they have the talent to win."
Delgado agrees that First Baptist has a solid team, after his first-year team lost to the Lions, 61-0.
"They execute well, have good speed and play solid defense," Delgado said.
Billie Sparacio's Lions won its first district title after playing football for just four years.
However, Sparacio does not see Indian Rocks as an easy team to beat.
"They are a complete team," Sparacio said. "They have a good passing and running game and strong on defense. They have some big guys that can make big plays. The bottom line for us to win is to not give up the big plays."
Sparacio has a number of Lions who can roar tonight. Quarterback Jonah Bueltel, running backs Christian Rodriguez , Chris Dorrill., Corey Todd and Zach Williams,. wide receiver Kody Van Duser, defensive backs Dillon Brocious and defensive tackle Joshua Mastrangelo are more than ready to go.
But individualism is not big at FBA.
"The beauty is our team is a team," he said. "There is not one individual, each one needs each other."
When approaching the playoffs, coaches will tell you it's not about doing anything differently. It's about doing it with more intensity.
"The thing that has to happen, the kids have to feel that playoff mode," Barron Collier coach Dan Pallante said. "They've got to go to the next level. You've got to feel it, that you're going to step your game up and you're going to care a little bit more."
To stay in rhythm, most coaches won't change their approach throughout the week. Naples High coach Bill Kramer said he didn't extend practice hours or add extra time watching film. Instead, emphasis was on increasing the quality of their workouts.
Many of the players in the postseason this year understand the playoff mindset. Barron Collier, Golden Gate, Immokalee, Naples and South Fort Myers all made the playoffs last year.
Naples and Immokalee both made deep postseason runs. The Golden Eagles and Indians each won twice to advance to the 6A and 5A regional championship games, respectively.
Immokalee has been looking forward to the playoffs since last year's regional final loss to Palmetto. The Indians had perhaps the biggest expectations placed on them this season thanks to a crop of as many as a dozen players who could play Division I college football.
"We need to keep staying focused and keep working hard, as always," junior running back D'Ernest Johnson said. "Nothing's changed."
At Barron Collier, the Cougars are listening to their coach. They know they need to find the next level Pallante talked about to change their recent playoff fortunes.
The Cougars finished runner-up in 6A-District 12 to qualify for the playoffs for a sixth straight year. However, Barron Collier has lost all five regional quarterfinal games in that span, and hasn't won a regional game since 1998.
"There hasn't been much of tradition at Barron going past the playoffs," senior defensive lineman Ben Huber said. "We're looking to change that this year and going forward. We want to keep playing as long as we can."